The Berlin-based artist sat down with Doireann Ní Dhufaigh to talk about her lush and hazy first album.
Nicole Faux Naiv’s debut album Moon Rally is a hallucinatory moodpiece. Her chosen moniker is a subversion of the ingénue archetype, a counter naïf. Tonally and thematically there are touches of Alice in Wonderland and The Virgin Suicides throughout.
One gets the sense from speaking with her that this capacity for storytelling extends past the confines of her music. She is an expressive and thoughtful speaker, giving consideration to each of her responses. She talks about the importance of being alone for developing one’s creativity and craft: ‘I think it's important for an artist to get inspiration independently. And you should be able to love solitude, I’m quoting Tarkovsky here.’
Nicole grew up in Germany, her family coming from the former Soviet Union, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. She is multilingual, having spoken Russian at home with her family, and German at school. The album is predominantly in English, with two songs sung in Russian, “теплое море” and “Вчерашний день”.
The inclusion of what sonically resembles a music box or a toy piano on the track “In The Stairwell” lends itself to the cultivation of this eerie dreamscape. Other ornamentation choices in the song, like the descending glissando on what sounds like a glockenspiel adds to the foreboding atmosphere.
What is apparent upon listening to the album, and having spoken with her, is the depth and reach of her cultural consumption. She runs me through the polyphony of influence. The album appears to be a synthesis, a patchwork of all of these impressions. It is a warm evening in late March and we are sitting outside a cafe in Prenzlauer Berg. As she is listing off the names of bands and artists that have shaped her, a car drives by, windows down. ABBA’s “Voulez-Vous” blares out the open window. ‘Also an influence!’ she laughs.
‘A lot of stuff from the 90s, the 80s, and also a bit of the early 00s. If I have to name specific bands it's like a lot of bands from Russia. My big influences are Kino, Viktor Tsoi, Agatha Christie. They were great, they were really dark and gloomy.’
We talk about t.A.T.u., the iconic and controversial Russian pop export. ‘The music is this typically early 2000s pop, but it sounds very unique because of this dark and melancholic Russian soul. This thing that is always present in Post-Soviet music in the 80s. All these bands have a sort of resistance soul in the music. They protested not very obviously, but between the lines. They were provocative in a hidden way.’
The intro to “A Cry from the Backyard” echoes Angelo Badalamenti’s “Laura Palmer's Theme” from the Twin Peaks score. The rising synth cultivates that same ambient dread, dramatic instrumentation matching mournful vocals.
There are pop turns present, too. “Imaginary Boy” has all the elements of an 80s love song. ‘Oh dear imaginary boy’ she sings, ‘Are you real or are you just a delusion or some kind of daydream?’ The track is replete with an adolescent yearning. In the music video for “Tomorrow Was a Summer Day in 2001”, the lyrics appear on screen in cursive handwriting, as if plucked directly from a teenage diary.
Because of the cinematic quality of the album, I wonder aloud about the filmic influences on her work. She says that during the writing process she was watching a lot of Tarkovsky. ‘What was for me very influential was Solaris by Tarkovsky and Daisies by Vera Chytilova. Chytilova’s whole aesthetic was like a collage, and my album is kind of a collage.’
Naiv’s fascination with space extends past her love of vintage sci-fi. She tells me that during the lockdown she bought a ‘beginner’s telescope’. Her brother helped her set it up. She believes in the comforting expanse of space, that looking up can make you feel ‘insignificant in a good way’.
The titular image of the moon rally looms large over the album. I ask her to elaborate on its meaning and symbolism. In the title track she sings ‘But I’m so happy cause my Moon Rally waits for me.’ The name comes from ‘a small computer game from my childhood which I vaguely remember, with a truck driving on the moon.’
‘What I meant in the song is that if life on earth is kind of hard sometimes, or when you’re sad or moody, there's always something worth living for, there will be a moon rally, and you know that there is going to be a moon rally. It is abstract, it is a feeling. Basically it describes this feeling of everything sucks right now, but something great is coming.’